Fresh off a Democratic primary win, Sen. Ed Markey made a stop in New Bedford Saturday where he blasted a recent Trump move to enact a 10-year ban on offshore drilling for oil and gas – but only in three Republican-controlled southern coastal states.

"He's fishing for votes in Florida, instead of protecting the fishing industry of Massachusetts," said Markey to those gathered near the city's hurricane barrier and harbor walk. "He knows he is not going to win up here in Massachusetts, and as a result is willing to endanger the fishing and the tourism industry."

President Donald Trump last Tuesday announced a new moratorium on oil and gas extraction off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, but did not say why he chose those three states. An existing moratorium covering Florida's gulf coast will stay in place, and Trump extended that ban to the Atlantic coast.

"This protects your beautiful gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come," the president said during a signing ceremony in Jupiter, Florida. "Who would have thought? Trump is the great environmentalist."

Markey on Saturday said Trump should suspend drilling plans in all states, including Massachusetts, and not just southern states with Republican governors.

"it's an election-year ploy," said Markey, echoing the words of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who on Twitter called Trump's move "unbelievable."

In Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, the prospect of offshore drilling for gas and oil has been unpopular, and media reports show that chants of "four more years" rang out Tuesday after Trump signed the order exempting the states from his plan.

Trump has been a big supporter of expanding offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all parts of the U.S. In 2017 he reversed an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management then proposed a five-year-plan to allow drilling off 90 percent of the U.S. coast. The agency’s plan for the Outer Continental Shelf was blocked by a judge in 2019, other lawsuits have been filed or are pending, and the program remains in legal limbo. The plan includes lease areas off the coast of New England, where geologists believe oil and gas plays exist. Massachusetts politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, have expressed fierce opposition to the idea.

Asked by WBSM on Saturday why he is raising the issue in New Bedford now, when Trump's expanded offshore drilling plan seems tied up in court with no immediate threat of oil and gas rigs going up off the Massachusetts coast, Markey said if Trump is re-elected that he would push the concept forward the minute any legal challenges are resolved.

"I would say that if a court decision is made at any point that is negative from a Massachusetts perspective, then Trump if he gets reelected would order the drilling immediately," Markey said. "So I don't think it's wise to depend upon a court decision. I think we need to ensure that we have legislative protections in place, and a president, Joe Biden, who would never permit this kind of reckless endangerment."

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, a Democrat, introduced Markey with words of praise and took a swipe at Trump, saying the president is "playing politics with the environment."

Mitchell described Trump as a president who "doesn't have his own compass. Good leaders set a direction, and they get people going in that direction. With Donald Trump, there is no direction."

Mitchell said because New Bedford is the nation's most valuable fishing port, "there is a lot at stake" should a spill occur. He said the move by Trump to exempt Republican-controlled battleground states two months ahead of the presidential election "seems a little fishy."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in 2016 estimated that its North Atlantic planning area could contain around 4.59 billion barrels of oil, and 11.76 trillion cubic feet of gas. A portion of that could be "economically recoverable," depending upon market conditions.

Also speaking Saturday was Jim Kendall, a retired New Bedford fisherman who now acts as an advocate for the interests of the commercial fisheries.

"It's not safe, it's not productive, and it's not healthy," said Kendall of the Trump drilling plan. "Georges Bank is so unique that an oil spill there would be disastrous." The Masachusetts senate in 2018 petitioned the Interior Department to exempt the fishing grounds of Georges Bank, Stellwagen Bank, and Jeffreys Ledge from oil and gas exploration.

Delivering words of praise for Markey were local Democratic state representatives Christopher Markey (no relation to the U.S. Senator) and Christopher Hendricks.

Markey reminded the small crowd that he was a lead congressional investigator into the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. In 2012, BP settled federal criminal charges in the case and pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. In 2014, a judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill due to gross negligence and reckless conduct.  BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.

Markey appeared in Boston earlier in the day, and after wrapping things up in New Bedford headed off to Falmouth. He promoted his "Green New Deal" concept, talked about climate change, and delivered one-liners, calling the GOP the "Gas and Oil Party" and the EPA "every polluter's ally."

Markey is still on the campaign trail. He prevailed in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary over U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, even though Kennedy was the favorite among Democratic voters in the South Coast area. Markey faces Republican challenger Kevin O'Connor in the November 3 general election.

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